Vancouver Canucks: Can Travis Green improve this team?

As we approach the 2019 NHL Entry Draft, our thoughts turn to the excitement of adding new prospects to the Vancouver Canucks’ pool of talent. But should they be looking at a coaching change as we look ahead to next season?

Travis Green was appointed head coach of the Vancouver Canucks two years ago. Since then, he has overseen the end of the Sedin era as well as the arrival of Elias Pettersson — but in so doing, has put together a pretty mediocre coaching record of 66-76-22.

In light of that record, it’s worth asking the awkward question as we’re still early in the summer: Can Green improve this team and make it playoff-worthy, or should the Canucks look at a coaching change while there’s still time to plan for next season?

Green took over the coaching reins from Willie Desjardins, and he’s provided the team with a low-key, low-drama approach to the game ever since. But in an era where Green is already the 15th-longest tenured NHL coach it’s worth examining whether he looks capable of leading the Canucks to a playoff spot –or whether we can only expect more of the same in the coming years.

After all, no one involved with the organization — the players, the management group, or the owners — can really afford to spend another two to three years plodding away in mediocrity. It’s been too long since this team was truly relevant.

So as we look forward to the future of this great franchise, does Green possess the know-how to help the team find an extra gear?

The case to keep Travis Green

First things first: Green is highly thought of by Canucks management. He was brought through the organization, having previously been Head Coach of the Utica Comets, and was specifically chosen for his knowledge of the organization and its young players. If general manager Jim Benning were to can Travis Green, it would mean hiring the third head coach of his tenure. Very few GMs ever get to hire four coaches.

Also on Green’s side is the talent that he has had to work with. Or, rather, the lack of it. Yes, he’s had Pettersson, Brock Boeser and Bo Horvat. Yes, he’s been able to rely on Jacob Markstrom an awful lot. But let’s face facts: Travis Green has been dealt a lackluster hand by Jim Benning.

The fact that this team was in playoff contention with a month left to go was an achievement in and of itself, because any team featuring the likes of Derrick Pouliot, Erik Gudbranson and Tim Schaller is not one you’d expect to get far. Green kept this team in the hunt until injuries and fatigue proved too much.

Speaking of injuries, they have also played a huge part in denting Travis Green’s hopes of making the playoffs. According to NHL Injury Viz, the Canucks lost the 4th-most number of man games in 2018/19, which was only a marginal improvement on the team’s 3rd-place finish in 2017/18.

It’s hardly fair to expect a rookie/sophomore coach to lead his team to a playoff spot when the organization simply hasn’t had the strength in depth to cope with the injuries they’ve picked up.

Green has also shown himself fully capable of helping the team’s young players improve. The list of young stars who have come on leaps and bounds under his tenure is very impressive: Jacob Markstrom, Troy Stecher, Bo Horvat, Jake Virtanen, Adam Gaudette have all taken big steps forward under Green. Even little Tyler Motte has improved his game, such is Green’s impact.

For a coach new to the NHL, he’s done better than most experienced coaches could have. And he’s done it with minimal fuss.

The case against Travis Green

They say a bad workman blames his tools, right? Well that’s what I just did there. Regardless of man games lost to injury, Green hasn’t been able to coach better results out of the stand-ins coming up from Utica. You know who has? Rod Brind’Amour of the Carolina Hurricanes, and he’s a rookie head coach.

Seeing the likes of Greg McKegg, Saku Maenalanen and Patrick Brown step into meaningful roles in Carolina, and play well, should gall Canucks fans — those three are no better than the likes of Reid Boucher, Brendan Leipsic or Ryan Spooner, yet the Hurricanes’ depth is capable of stepping in and winning games. For whatever reason — despite being a Comets alumni — Green has barely squeezed any juice at all from any of his AHL call-ups.

And while the Canucks’ younger players have taken a step forward, the team’s veterans haven’t been performing. What happened to Brandon Sutter, the great penalty killer? Wasn’t Jay Beagle meant to be the new Manny Malhotra? Throw in the likes of Gudbranson, Michael del Zotto, Schaller and even a declining Chris Tanev, and it’s clear to see that Green’s forte is working with the team’s younger players.

Isn’t that at odds with Benning’s desire to stuff this team choc-full of 26-35 year olds?

There are also several excellent coaches currently out of work that the Canucks could consider, with several more likely to hit the market this summer as teams make changes following playoff exits. Wouldn’t a more experienced coach like Mike Yeo, Dave Hakstol, Guy Boucher or Jack Capuano fit Benning’s plan better than Travis Green?

Green has done a sterling job for the Canucks. He’s worked with a sub-par roster, improved the team’s young talent, turned Markstrom’s game around (with the enormous help of Ian Clark), and has the team set up for future success. Making a coaching change would make zero sense, and the best chance of improving is to stick with Green and give him a better roster to work with.